Just a few days after power was restored from the March 9 nor’ easter that caused the entire town of Boxford to go dark, the Tri-Town area was blanketed Tuesday by yet another major snowstorm in the range of 16-20 inches.
Luckily, the third storm was less intense and most of the 538 outages in West Boxford Tuesday were quickly restored after National Grid fixed multiple fallen branches that were down along the main line that travels through town from Foster Street down Main Street to Haverhill. Only a handful of residents were still without power on Wednesday morning, reported Communications Director Warren Gould.
A battalion of DPW and snowplow subcontractors were dispatched to the streets of all three towns to keep roads clear and passable, and all tri-town elementary school systems and Masconomet were canceled both Tuesday and Wednesday.
National Grid kept 500 outside crews in the state - 100 for Merrimack Valley Region - this week along with its “zone specific restoration equipment,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Chuck Costello announced in a winter storm update Monday night.
While the National Grid equipment was deployed from the Boxford DPW, Costello clarified that Boxford and Haverhill are considered one zone and that “crew responses are made on a priority basis within our zone.”
Repeated power outages of 2-4 days duration has caused Boxford residents “substantial frustration”, and Boxford selectmen have met many times with both National Grid and state officials with three objectives: to improve response times; to improve communications; and to improve electrical infrastructure in Boxford.
As many Boxford townspeople last week called for the town to take a more aggressive approach toward tree maintenance via social media, town officials clarified this week that Boxford has been spending $100,000 per year to trim and remove trees.
Many residents have already installed generators to cope with the loss of power while others often relocate out-of-town to the homes of family members or to hotels. And for those who decide to tough it out with no power, the town keeps the police station open 24 hours for residents to use bathrooms, obtain water and to recharge devices. The fire stations are also open during the daytime and early evening hours.
Since the storm of Oct. 29, 2017 when many in town experienced 4-day outages, the state Department of Public Utilities has opened an investigation into National Grid’s failure to comply with its own storm restoration protocols within the town of Boxford.
Other actions taken by the town include: meetings with Cordi O’Hara, the new president of the state’s National Grid division during long-term outages; and conferring with the lieutenant governor, who has offered both immediate and longer term assistance.
National Grid has “a regional deficiency within the Merrimack Valley Region,” asserted Boxford town officials, who pointed out that, “insufficient tree trimming and removal is a major contributing factor to the power outages in town.” The town alleges that “National Grid has not maintained adequate investment in its infrastructure,” including a 107-year-old telephone pole that broke in a recent storm.
“It continues to be a major frustration that National Grid does not deploy sufficient numbers of repair crews commensurate with the amount of damages reported,” Costello said, “It seems every storm, National Grid discovers more damage in Boxford than anticipated” despite the towns’ efforts in “painstakingly” providing the outage information to them.
Communication is key
The town urges residents to help out during power outages. Call National Grid directly every day of the outage at 1-800-465-1212 or 1-800-322-3223.
Check the Boxford Facebook page for updates, and register cell phones with the Police Department in case landlines are out of service.
And, to help keep National Grid informed, contact the town through its website to report your personal experiences with National Grid responses and accuracy of estimated restoration times.
“The town uses these personal stories as evidence in its presentations to state regulatory officials,” Costello urged.
“I’d like to thank all our dispatchers, Fire Chief Brian Geiger, DPW Chief John Dold, COA Director Pam Blaquiere and Emergency Director Robert Hazelwood “who have all been texting back and forth during the height of the storms,” praised Gould, who is known around town as “Mr. Robocall” since he delivers the daily messages sent out to residents during the storms via phone.
The Boxford Police Station is open 24/7 and residents are welcome to stop by and charge phones, obtain water and use the bathroom facilities.
During long term power outage events, the Fire Stations are also open during the day and evenings - and they even have shower stalls.
“It was a tough storm, especially due to the long duration,” commented Andrew Sheehan, Middleton Town administrator the day after the third storm. “There was some tree damage, but nothing like last week's storm. Unfortunately there are still limbs on the ground in some areas which makes plowing roads and sidewalks more challenging.”
Middleton closed its non-essential offices including Town Hall until noon on Wednesday as the clean up continued throughout the town.
“Topsfield had no major issues during the third storm, Fortunately, most people stayed off the roads and we had no issues with power loss as we did in the last storm,” noted Topsfield Police Chief Evan Haglund who estimated that 18-20 inches of snow fell during the third storm.
The nor'easter that began the evening of Wednesday, March 7 and continued through the night pounded the Tri-Towns with heavy, wet snow and winds, knocking out power to all of Boxford and most of Topsfield. Trees brought wires down, and transformers exploded. The morning of March 8 saw a dangerous situation with tree branches still snapping, chunks of ice and snow falling on cars, and numerous roads blocked, and there were downed wires everywhere.
Although Boxford and Topsfield were hit the hardest, Middleton wasn’t spared. The Transcript received a call from Thunder Bridge Lane reporting a tree across the road was preventing residents from getting out. The Department of Public works reported over 100 downed trees.
Topsfield Fire Department reported via Facebook that there were multiple transformer explosions and that several large trees came down. Ipswich Road in Topsfield and Topsfield Road in Ipswich were closed because a massive tree fell across Ipswich Road not far from the Ipswich line, bringing wires with it.
Topsfield Public works posted, "FYI National Grid is telling us that there will be no restoration at all until sometime Friday. There are live wires all over town. Keep the kids away!!"
In Boxford Thursday morning, a contractor trying to get down Herrick Road, which was totally blocked in at least one spot, said he hadn't been able to get to a house to provide service because so many roads were impassable. And, he said he could hear tree limbs snapping everywhere.
"It’s dangerous," he said.
A woman trying to get to her mother’s house on High Ridge said she had been driving around for 45 minutes, but kept being re-routed because of blocked roads.
Boxford resident Kathy Zolla reported via Facebook, "So then there was a loud 'crack', a rumble and a screeching noise as the large tree came down brushing the roof, the bedroom window and landed 'whomp' behind the house."
National Grid reported that 3,029 customers in Boxford were without power and 2,433 were in the dark in Topsfield.
Anticipating a prolonged period of power outages, both Boxford and Topsfield opened town fire houses to local residents, so they could warm up and charge their cell phones and other devices. Throughout the next couple of days, officials with Topsfield Public Works and the Town of Boxford posted regular updates to Facebook to keep residents informed of National Grid's progress in clearing and repairing wires. Rep. Brad Hill also posted regular updates on the progress being made in the towns in his district.
In her updates, Topsfield Fire Chief Jen Collins-Brown stressed the initial recovery effort would focus on making roadways passable and safe. In addition to blown transformers and downed trees, some poles had snapped.
Boxford Communications Director Warren Gould said on Friday that restoration work was centered on the damaged substations and feeder lines. The Pond Street substation had no power at the time. The North Andover substation, which feeds Foster and Main streets, had power, but there was still a lot of debris to be cleared before electricity could be restored to homes.
Almost all roads in Boxford had been opened to at least one lane of traffic by Friday afternoon, with the exception of King George, which was still blocked. Some roads, including Herrick, still had significant amounts of debris in the road.
By Saturday evening, almost everyone in Topsfield had power restored.
Sections of Boxford, however, were still dark. Town officials posted on Saturday, "National Grid continues to work today on the three major power lines in town, two emanating from the Boxford substation and one out of North Andover. National Grid estimates that these major lines will be energized by the end of the day. Side streets off of the main lines will be energized if there is no damage on the side street. If there is major damage to the electrical lines on those side streets, National Grid will leave them without power and return to those streets later."